You know my family just completed a college tour road trip- 7 colleges, 16 states, 2800 miles.  Seeing 7 colleges brought the total up to 15 colleges visited.  My daughter has narrowed down her choices and is now starting the application process.  Here’s how she narrowed it down.

There are about 4000 colleges in the US.  Where do you go from there?  Well, the editor of the Princeton Review “Top 382 Colleges in America” gave a talk at my daughter’s school, and handed out copies of the book.  So we went from 4000 to 382 pretty quickly.  (Let me add, this is how we did it- you can narrow down the field anyway you want) But, along side this book, we had done a few tours of college campuses.  We spread the field a bit- we visited a few different campuses- state schools, private schools, undergrad enrollment less than 5000, between 5 and 10000, and greater.  Urban and less urban.  After viewing the different options my daughter knew the following:

  1. 5000-10000 undergrad would be ideal. Larger was better than smaller
  2. Urban or town setting.  When you walked out of the campus gates, there needed to actually be something you could walk to
  3. Co-ed
  4. Strong humanities/pre law  program
  5. No farther west than the mid-west
  6. Law team/club/fraternity
  7. limited social fraternity
  8. limited team culture
  9. Low student/faculty ratio
  10. small class size
  11. classes taught by Professors not TA’s

We then went through the 382 colleges book page by page.  She narrowed down the field to 41 schools.   Of those 41 schools she broke it down into three levels-

  1. reach schools (schools where admittance rate for her was hovering around 15% or less,
  2. target schools (schools which she has a decent shot of getting into, meaning her grades and test scores fall into the middle to high range of where their admitted students are
  3. likely, which is schools where she is at the highest point or above where their students are

After separating them, she got on the mailing lists of any schools not already sending her information.  She attended road shows when available- road show meaning, representatives from the schools come to our area and give a presentation about the school.  She went on school websites and instagrams and whatever social media the school was using to promote itself.

Then she made a list of schools that she wanted to see in person to see if she liked the culture.  Honestly, she knew 3 minutes into an information session if she liked the school.  The person who introduces you to the school is a great barometer of what the school will be like- she separated the types of schools as follows:

  1. Touchy-feely- schools where the advisors have advisors.  These schools are very nurturing and will hold your hand through everything
  2. Cold- schools where they sort of feed you to the wolves- highly competitive atmosphere
  3. Pseudo intellectual- the kids are incredibly smart, and they let you know it at every single opportunity
  4. Quirky- kids that think outside the box about everything
  5. Intellectual- kids really do sit on the common and discuss philosophy
  6. Go team- half the campus will have there faces painted on game day, and students travel to away games
  7. Susie sorority- more than 50% of students are in Greek life and their is greek housing on campus
  8. granola- kids are so chill that literally nothing bothers them
  9. Academic- most kids have at minimum a double major
  10. Commuter- kids leave campus on weekends
  11. Involved- kids are involved in at least three different areas of campus life

Obviously, schools can carry more than one banner, but it’s very easy to break them down into categories.  Know thyself- which type of kid are you?  What are you looking for in a school? Which type makes you comfortable?  Which type of school would you thrive in? What type of people do you want to surround yourself by?

And now the list is down to 15, including two schools she has not toured/info session yet, but will most probably make the cut.  She will most probably apply to 15 schools- her school recommendation is 10 schools, but since she is top heavy on reach schools, she is spreading the field.  With the common app, applying to more schools is very easy- 90% of the work is done.  She has also been waived from admission fees at some of the schools, so cost is evening itself out.

Now- some of you are saying- “My kid won’t do this.” Some of you are parents that are asking the questions when you visit schools.  Some of you have kids who are sitting in the back row of info sessions and are on their phone the whole time.  Here’s what I say to that:

Maybe your child should not go to college right after High School.  No matter what anyone say, college is an option.  No one has to go to college.  College does not mean you will be successful – successful meaning that you will have an enriching career that challenges you and that you love.  If your kid hasn’t been interested in studying, and shows no interest in the college process, let them explore other options.  Colleges report six year graduation rates, because there are a lot of kids (going full time) who require 6 years to get a BA/BS degree, and it’s not usually because they changed majors.  Think about that.  Isn’t it better that a kid gets a job before they go to college so that they could think about what they want to do, instead of wasting time and money?

Also- community college.  Work a job, take a class.  Maybe they’ll find something they love.  Tech school- hello- to be an electrician or plumber or IT guy you have to be really smart, but they don’t require college.  And you will have a career and a skill.


You can think about which college you want to go to.

You can decide not to go to college

You can go to trade school.

You can be an entrepreneur. (but please take at least one accounting class so you have an idea about balance sheets)

The only bad option is doing something but not putting your heart and soul into it.  Enter the next phase of life passionate about something.  My daughter is passionate about continuing her education- that is evident by her choices.  But there is nothing wrong with being a 17 year old kid who does not know what they want to do.  i’m 54 and I still don’t know what I want to do.

The choice is figuring out what you want to do next.  If you love something, it always ends up working out.

42 thoughts on “Choices

  1. Speaking as a retired university professor who taught many students who weren’t at all sure they wanted to be there, you are offering extremely good advice. I hope it is widely read and taken to heart.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love that you are sharing your methods and approach for other families going through the process, because it really can be overwhelming. And I agree that kids who don’t take the initiative maybe aren’t quite ready or should be encouraged to look at *all* their options (or maybe their parents need to sit back and recognize that this is the student’s chance to start shaping an independent future!). I’ve been lucky because both my kids are very self-motivated and clear about what they want to study and where they want to go. My daughter just started her freshman year in geophysics and my son – a senior in HS this year – has already been accepted to his first choice school to study ag tech management and engineering. Such a relief to have those decisions made – even if they change their minds, at least they have a direction! Anyway, good luck to you and your daughter as you explore the possibilities!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I think we have to all accept what are kids internal thermometer is telling them. Some kids can’t wait to go on the college, which is awesome, but waiting and thinking about what you want to do is just as good. There’s no one size fits all in this case


  3. Yes. I know many many people who end up working in a field that had nothing to do with what they studied at Universities. (In Canada, Universities give you a degree (4 years), whereas a College hands out diplomas (2-3 years) ). We have noticed since my husband and I graduated 20 years ago that many colleges are actually better options today in terms of opportunities, especially if you want to dabble a bit in many subjects. A lot of them offer co-ops (2 semesters study, 1 semester work in field etc)…also the trade schools are screaming for students. So there are a lot of options. It depends, like you say, on the kid, their interests, and quite possibly their evolving interests.

    I’ve had peer moms of mine (kids not yet or just starting high school say) “they’re going to University, there is no other option”. I do not think this way and do not endorse it to my kids, either, despite the fact that both us parents here have University degrees. They will have to figure out what they want to do, how they want to study, and the financial aspect plays a part as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there are so many options that people don’t consider. There is no universal best…what’s best is what’s best for each individual student…I think kids need to be exposed to different ideas instead of just one ideal


  4. I have told my son he needs some skills. Go to a trade school or the military(largest trade school in America). I know from experence that you will starve on minimum wage job-which is the only kind you can get without college and/or skills. Or be male. They can walk into a construction job and be paid nicely. Oh and you college grads-quit hogging the min. wage jobs.While your mooning about not being offered the CEO posistion while living with mommy ,there are people who need to make a living.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderfully written. Of our three children, only the youngest was focused enough to attend and graduate college. The other two struggled through high school and tried a semester at Junior College but were not of the academic mind. They both have good jobs and are pretty much self-sufficient adults and the youngest just landed a great job as a teacher’s assistant. I wish that the high schools would allow those who are not academically inclined the opportunity to pursue trades. It is so sad to see that things like auto mechanics, woodshop and home ec are no longer considered worthy of being taught.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. PM Tony Blair gave a famous speech “education education education”, the upshot every child went to University..…………….. fifteen years later the country is crying out for electricians plumbers AND consequently they are V well paid……………. all I’m saying is I did an apprenticeship and touch wood have always been in work, perhaps not every youngster is maybe cut out for University.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My hairstylist has a second home in Florida…… and I don’t go to one of those expensive salons….people are always going to need services like these…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. You can also add go into the military. I entered the Air Force at the age of 17 with no idea what I wanted to do. I figured I would do 4 years, save some money and figure things out. Turns out I ended up going to college in my off duty time with 75% of my tuition paid for. I got my degree, learned some skills and left after 10 years. Then I joined the Air National Guard, got my commission (became an officer) and saw the world. I worked both full time and part time for the Guard. After 11 years I retired and had my son. And now I have a nice pension waiting for me when I turn 60.
    It is good to look at all your options and not be afraid to wait if you don’t know what to do. It is lovely that your daughter is so certain of her path in life. I hope it all works out for her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I think too many people choose the “easy” route of college, but college doesn’t necessarily help you figure out what you want to do, and can end up not being beneficial on any level. My friends husband was in the army and it ended up being a great path for him


  8. When you think back on your own college experience, how many of us knew at 16 or 17 what we wanted to do with your lives. Some kids will know and find their place, but there is nothing wrong with taking a year to figure it out. Whenever we went on college tours we noticed the kids right up front were not the ones asking the questions, it was their parents. My husband, my daughter and my son have all given college tours, my husband as a coach (his can get a bit long) my son as a admissions rep( gave extra info for the kids) canned tour, my daughter as an admissions rep as well as an adjunct professor (only gave tours in her major). They all said the same thing, they wished there was a tour for parents to get their info and then for the kids.
    Your daughter seems, focused and organized and will find the best fit for her, she is going places.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When I started reading this I was a bit boggled because it is such a different system to ours Down Under. I also thought OMG, does this woman put labels on everyone and everything or what. (The Susie Soriety has me totally confused). But I kept reading and it became very evident that you simply laid out a system in layman’s terms, making it easier to digest for parents and students alike. Lots of good advice for all. Well done! And I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up either……….:)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s how we had to think of things….what type is my daughter and what type is the college…sort of like a buzzfeed quiz to choose your school


  10. Yes the teens need the space to make their own choices. They may not have it figured out in high school. My youngest decided in June she did not want to do engineering, and her valedictory address centred around finding your own path. Many of my girls classmates started out in university only to drop out or change their degree. My advice is to be careful about pressuring your child…….even if you don’t think you are, their perception may differ.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much for this post! I love how organized your daughter is and how she seems to know exactly what she wants. I really do wish her the best!
    But thank you for mentioning about the ones who don’t know what they want to do and how NOT everyone needs to go to college! My dear daughter just graduated in May and she doesn’t know what she wants to do and she was feeling pressured by the school and her peers that are going to college, but my husband and I both told her that there is nothing wrong with taking a year off and exploring all options!
    Why push kids into the college scene that is very expensive and stressful, especially if you aren’t ready for it!
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what I don’t get…why push kids into something they may not be ready for. If you’re not ready, you may not do well. There’s no special prize for figuring things out at 16.


  12. What a great article and what a clever way of finding the right school- very mature! And… I still don’t know what I want to do… and I have a kid who is 9 soon… Maybe that is just my path 🙏🏻😌

    Liked by 1 person

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